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Index << Protect Your Children From Online Predators


For parents, the Internet can be like navigating a minefield.

While the Web allows kids the freedom to make friends, play games and research homework with the click of a button, it can pose a potential danger as online predators, cyberbullies and scam artists ply their trade.

"Your child could be physically harmed by someone he or she encounters online and later meets in person," said online security expert Benjamin Halpert on Thursday as he addressed a group of security experts at the 2007 Cyber Crime Summit in Kennesaw.

"A lot of parents think, 'It will never happen to my kid,' and that's not true," he said, adding that boys and girls are victimized in equal numbers.

Parents need to take precautions, Halpert said. In "SafeOnline 101" Halpert gives parents the tools they need to protect their children from cyberthreats.

And while there's no easy solution, preventative measures can greatly reduce a child's chances of becoming a victim.

"The biggest thing is to start early. Children are going online at a younger and younger age these days. The younger you can start the better, talking to your children about it, so that it becomes ingrained as they go forward," he said.

Halpert offered common-sense steps for parents.

First he says parents need to become more computer literate and Web savvy. Take for example, instant messaging. Parents need to learn the lingo: POS is short for "parents are looking over my shoulder" and LMIRL means "let's meet in real life."(Read the FBI's lingo list -- PDF)

And do not let a child have a computer in his or her bedroom. Halpert equates that to giving a child to a complete stranger and walking away.

Instead, the computer should be in a high-traffic part of the home like the family room or kitchen. Monitor your child's surfing by wandering in and out of the room periodically and checking.

Halpert said Web cams are a bad idea, citing that too often they are used by online predators to solicit sexual activity.

Next establish ground rules for online use. Write up the rules and place a copy by the computer so your child can refer to them while surfing the Web. Also, have the child sign an Internet use pledge that everyone can live by and stick to.

More than half of American families with teens use filters to limit access to potentially harmful online content, according to a 2005 survey conducted by the Pew Internet and American Life Project.

Halpert said parents should know what these tools can and cannot do and how they work.

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